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Roger Smith

The Secret of Her Success

She's a singer and dancer who has drawn sell-out crowds for her Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Radio City Music Hall performances for three decades. She has performed at the White House and has received presidential citations for entertaining U.S. Armed Forces overseas. She's even given a royal command performance for the King and Queen of Sweden. She's an award-winning actress with nearly 60 films to her credit. She was a friend of Elvis Presley. And she's also a woman who has been happily married to the same man for over 30 years. She is Ann-Margret.

Born in Sweden in 1941, she moved to the United States in 1946. On her first night in New York, her father took her and her mother to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes -- and 5-year-old Ann-Margret Olsson, who already had a love of music, got a glimpse of her future.

"In that little village in Sweden, Mom would teach me songs and do little movements to them, and I always loved music. And my uncle, who still lives in that house that I grew up in, plays the accordion," says Ann-Margret. "I was crazy about music and dancing and singing and stuff, and then when I saw that, and that big movie, and all those people on stage, I was awestruck."

When she was 10, the family returned to Sweden for a visit, where an uncle gave her a ride on his motorcycle. As an adult, the actress still enjoys roaring around Los Angeles on her own bike, loving the speed and danger.

"I'm sure that, on some level, I'm reacting to my repressed upbringing, to the good little girl side of me," she says in her 1994 autobiography, Ann-Margret: My Story, written with People magazine's Todd Gold. "I suppose, in a way, there have always been two Ann-Margrets -- the uninhibited performer and the private introvert."

And, indeed, Ann-Margret, the person, stands in stark contrast to Ann-Margret, award-winning performer.

Married for over 30 years to actor Roger Smith, the actress has eschewed the Hollywood lifestyle and rarely goes out in public. Perhaps that is one reason the union has lasted so long, in spite of early naysayers who felt Smith was taking too much control over the career of the young actress. The two have a mutually supportive relationship that has endured her early bout with alcoholism and nearly life-ending 22-foot fall from a Lake Tahoe, Nev., stage in 1972 and his struggle with the muscle disease myasthenia gravis, now in remission. (She is the national chairperson for the Myasthenia Gravis Division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.)

"You never want that kind of thing to happen. But, if you do have to go through something, and you come out at the end of the tunnel and it's terrific -- wow! What an experience," explains Ann-Margret, who has her own theory as to why her marriage has endured.

"We want to make it work, and we like each other, and we still laugh a lot. We don't go out to hurt each other. [After 30 years], you know exactly the buttons to push to start something, but we never want to start anything," she says. "If people don't really like one another, they should part."

Her career has lasted nearly four decades and encompassed nearly 60 films. She has been twice-nominated for Academy Awards (Bobbie Templeton in Carnal Knowledge and Nora Walker Hobbs in Tommy). She has also been nominated four times for Emmy awards (Queen, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, A Streetcar Named Desire and Who Will Love My Children?).

She has been nominated for Golden Globe awards seven times -- and won five. But, with all she's done, Ann-Margret is hard-pressed to choose a favorite project.

"I really couldn't say which one is my favorite. I've learned so much in each one of the things that I've done," she says, explaining that she has also learned from her failures.

"I had to learn. The ones that turned out to be real stinkaroos -- I learned from that, too."

On Oct. 12, Ann-Margret stars in Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story on Lifetime. Based on the best seller by Christopher Ogden, the biography covers 50 years in the life of Pamela Harriman.

Viewers will be struck by the physical resemblance between Harriman and Harriman as played by Ann-Margret, which the actress attributes to hairdresser Linda DeAndrea and makeup artist Wayne Massarelli.

Getting the character down required more work. Luckily for Ann-Margret, although she had never met Harriman, many of her friends had.

"And I talked to every single one of them, until they were exhausted," she laughs. In addition to Life of the Party, the actress also read Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman by Sally Bedell Smith. In her quest to nail down the character, Ann-Margret listened to tapes of a speech made by Harriman at the 1984 Democratic convention, as well as interviews she did with Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters.

According to executive producer Francine LeFrak, Ann-Margret's hard work paid off. "I really believe that Pamela would be smiling to see this film, because she wanted to be remembered and never forgotten, and to have had Ann-Margret play her, who is so gorgeous and did such an incredible job, is really, really a treasure."

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